Ace Cafe Italian Night – October 2019

By October, the hours of daylight have reduced significantly, with the result that it gets dark soon after the end of the working day. That means that evening events such as those held at the legendary Ace Cafe, which do indeed run throughout the whole year, are very much something that will take place in the dark. And that acts as something as a disincentive to many of those who do come along during the daylight months. That said, if you look at the turn out at the Italian Car evening, held on the second Thursday of the month, there were more cars present than had been the case earlier in the year on a wet evening. Despite leaving the office in central London nice and early, traffic was such that it took me over 2 hours to travel out to the Ace Cafe, so it was around 6:30pm by the time I arrived, by which time the non-Italian cars had been cleared from the forecourt and a number of theme compliant cars were already parked up. More would arrive during the evening, and here – in some rather dark photos – is what was present.


The vast majority of cars present were Abarths. This is not uncommon even in the summer months, but the presence of quite so many on this occasion – over 20 of them – is continued evidence of the enthusiasm that a large number of owners have in meeting up. There was great variety in the cars here, as ever, though most of them were indeed from the 500 family. They ranged from cars such as Paul Hatton’s 500 Esseesse, which he has owned for some years, to a number of newly registered 69 plate 595s. They made for a colourful sight even under the floodlights.

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The photos show a couple of the Punto models here, too, though in fact a couple more did arrive later. James King’s SuperSport was joined mid-evening by Jack Smith’s Evo. It turned out that Jack’s journey from Gloucester had taken less time than mine from central London! Arriving too late to be included in my photos were the cars of Steve Miller and Mike George, making for a quartet of Punto models in total. The Punto Evo was launched at the 2010 Geneva Show, with the cars reaching UK buyers in the summer of that year, and it incorporated many of the changes which had been seen a few months earlier on the associated Fiat models, the visual alterations being the most obvious, with the car taking on the nose of the associated Fiat, but adapted to make it distinctively Abarth, new rear lights and new badging. There was more to it than this, though, as under the bonnet, the T-Jet unit was swapped for the 1.4 litre Multi-Air, coupled to a 6 speed gearbox, which meant that the car now had 165 bhp at its disposal. Eventually, Abarth offered an Esseesse kit for these cars, though these are exceedingly rare. For those in the know – which never seemed to be that many people – this was a really capable and desirable car, and the owners love them, lamenting the fact that the model had quite a short production life and has not been replaced.

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Just 199 of the Punto SuperSport versions were built, of which around 120 are registered on UK roads. These cars had many of the options from the Punto Evo included as standard. Power came from the the 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo engine, tuned to produce 178bhp and 199lb ft of torque, up from 165 of the standard Punto Evo, giving the SuperSport a 0-62 time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of over 132mph. To help put the power down, the SuperSport was fitted with wider 18″ wheels and optional Koni FSD dampers. Standard equipment included the Blue&Me infotainment system with steering wheel controls, automatic climate control and a popular option was the ‘Abarth Corsa by Sabelt’ sports leather seats. The SuperSport was available in the same colours as the regular Punto Evo, which means white, grey, black and red.

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Arriving during the evening was this rather fabulous Alfa Romeo Giulia, the much-praised sports saloon that finally went on sale in the UK in 2017 following a wait of what seemed like years.

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There were two other Italian cars here: my Maserati Ghibli and a single Fiat Coupe. I only have one picture of these, as even in the lighting of the site near the building, there just was not enough for a standard camera to come up with much.

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There was one non Italian car which remained on site, and rather splendid it was, too. This was a striking Citroen DS21. It is hard to imagine just how revolutionary this car must have seemed when it was unveiled at the Paris Show in 1955. 18 years in secret development as the successor to the Traction Avant, the DS 19 stole the show, and within 15 minutes of opening, 743 orders were taken. By the end of the first day, that number had risen to 12,000. Contemporary journalists said the DS pushed the envelope in the ride vs. handling compromise possible in a motor vehicle. To a France still deep in reconstruction after the devastation of World War II, and also building its identity in the post-colonial world, the DS was a symbol of French ingenuity. It also posited the nation’s relevance in the Space Age, during the global race for technology of the Cold War. Structuralist philosopher Roland Barthes, in an essay about the car, said that it looked as if it had “fallen from the sky”. An American advertisement summarised this selling point: “It takes a special person to drive a special car”. Because they were owned by the technologically aggressive tyre manufacturer Michelin, Citroën had designed their cars around the technically superior radial tyre since 1948, and the DS was no exception. The car featured a novel hydropneumatic suspension including an automatic levelling system and variable ground clearance, developed in-house by Paul Magès. This suspension allowed the DS to travel quickly on the poor road surfaces common in France. In addition, the vehicle had power steering and a semi-automatic transmission (the transmission required no clutch pedal, but gears still had to be shifted by hand though the shift lever controlled a powered hydraulic shift mechanism in place of a mechanical linkage, and a fibreglass roof which lowered the centre of gravity and so reduced weight transfer. Inboard front brakes (as well as independent suspension) reduced unsprung weight. Different front and rear track widths and tyre sizes reduced the unequal tyre loading, which is well known to promote understeer, typical of front-engined and front-wheel drive cars. As with all French cars, the DS design was affected by the tax horsepower system, which effectively mandated very small engines. Unlike the Traction Avant predecessor, there was no top-of-range model with a powerful six-cylinder engine. Citroën had planned an air-cooled flat-6 engine for the car, but did not have the funds to put the prototype engine into production. The 1955 DS19 was 65% more expensive than the car it replaced, the Citroën Traction Avant. This did impact potential sales in a country still recovering economically from World War II, so a cheaper submodel, the Citroën ID, was introduced in 1957. The ID shared the DS’s body but was less powerful and luxurious. Although it shared the engine capacity of the DS engine (at this stage 1,911 cc), the ID provided a maximum power output of only 69 hp compared to the 75 hp claimed for the DS19. Power outputs were further differentiated in 1961 when the DS19 acquired a Weber-32 twin bodied carburettor, and the increasing availability of higher octane fuel enabled the manufacturer to increase the compression ratio from 7.5:1 to 8.5:1. A new DS19 now came with a promised 83 hp of power. The ID19 was also more traditional mechanically: it had no power steering and had conventional transmission and clutch instead of the DS’s hydraulically controlled set-up. Initially the basic ID19 was sold on the French market with a price saving of more than 25% against the DS, although the differential was reduced at the end of 1961 when the manufacturer quietly withdrew the entry level ID19 “Normale” from sale. An estate version was introduced in 1958. It was known by various names in different markets: Break in France, Safari and Estate in the UK, Wagon in the US, and Citroën Australia used the terms Safari and Station-Wagon. It had a steel roof to support the standard roof rack. ‘Familiales’ had a rear seat mounted further back in the cabin, with three folding seats between the front and rear squabs. The standard Break had two side-facing seats in the main load area at the back. During the 20 year production life, improvements were made on an ongoing basis. In September 1962, the DS was restyled with a more aerodynamically efficient nose, better ventilation and other improvements. It retained the open two headlamp appearance, but was available with an optional set of driving lights mounted on the front bumpers. A more luxurious Pallas trim came in for 1965 Named after the Greek goddess Pallas, this included comfort features such as better noise insulation, a more luxurious (and optional leather) upholstery and external trim embellishments. The cars were complex, and not always totally reliable, One of the issues that emerged during long term use was addressed with a change which came in for 1967. The original hydropneumatic system used a vegetable oil liquide hydraulique végétal (LHV), similar to that used in other cars at the time, but later switched to a synthetic fluid liquide hydraulique synthétique (LHS). Both of these had the disadvantage that they are hygroscopic, as is the case with most brake fluids. Disuse allows water to enter the hydraulic components causing deterioration and expensive maintenance work. The difficulty with hygroscopic hydraulic fluid was exacerbated in the DS/ID due to the extreme rise and fall in the fluid level in the reservoir, which went from nearly full to nearly empty when the suspension extended to maximum height and the six accumulators in the system filled with fluid. With every “inhalation” of fresh moisture- (and dust-) laden air, the fluid absorbed more water. For the 1967 model year, Citroën introduced a new mineral oil-based fluid liquide hydraulique minéral (LHM). This fluid was much less harsh on the system. LHM remained in use within Citroën until the Xantia was discontinued in 2001. LHM required completely different materials for the seals. Using either fluid in the incorrect system would completely destroy the hydraulic seals very quickly. To help avoid this problem, Citroën added a bright green dye to the LHM fluid and also painted all hydraulic elements bright green. The former LHS parts were painted black. All models, including the Safari and ID, were upgraded at the same time. The hydraulic fluid changed to the technically superior LHM (Liquide Hydraulique Minéral) in all markets except the US and Canada, where the change did not take place until January 1969, due to local regulations. Rarest and most collectable of all DS variants, a convertible was offered from 1958 until 1973. The Cabriolet d’Usine (factory convertible) were built by French carrossier Henri Chapron, for the Citroën dealer network. These DS convertibles used a special frame which was reinforced on the sidemembers and rear suspension swingarm bearing box, similar to, but not identical to the Break/Safari frame. It was an expensive car, so only 1,365 were sold. Production of the DS Berline models ended in 1975 once the CX was in full swing, and the Safari lasted a further year until they too were replaced by a CX version. These days, DS models are highly prized and the best preserved cars sell for huge sums of money.

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Although this was not really an evening for lingering outside, with a turnout of Abarths as sizeable as this, it was most definitely one for catching up with a number of friends over one of the Cafe’s tasty burgers. Despite my frustrations when sat in the traffic earlier on, I am glad I made the effort to go along. My diary looks congested for the next couple of months, so it is likely that this will be the last time I attend an Ace Cafe meet in 2019, but I am certainly looking forward to more of the same format in 2020.

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